Robot Rats to Inspect Chinese Pipelines

In a study published on 7 April by IEEE Transactions on Robotics, researchers demonstrate how their new rat-inspired robot, SQuRo (small-sized Quadruped Robotic Rat), can walk, crawl, and climb over objects, turn sharply and recover from falls. The research team, led by Qing Shi, a Professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, first used X-Rays of real rats to better understand the animal’s anatomy—especially its joints. They then designed SQuRO to have rodent-like movement patterns and degrees of freedom (DOF). This includes two DOFs in each limb, the waist, and the head, and rat-like flexible spine movement.

In one test, SQuRO had to make its way through a narrow, irregular passage that mimicked a cave environment. In another scenario, SQuRo successfully toted a 200-gram weight (representing 91 percent of its own weight) across a field that included 20-degree slopes. “To the best of our knowledge, SQuRo is the first small-sized quadruped robot of this scale that is capable of performing five motion modes, which includes crouching-to-standing, walking, crawling, turning, and fall recovery,” said Shi.

The team is interested in commercializing the robot and plans to improve its agility via closed-loop control and in-depth dynamic analysis. “Moreover, we will install more sensors on the robot to conduct field tests in narrow unstructured pipelines,” says Shi. “We are confident that SQuRo has the potential to be used in pipeline [fault] detection after being equipped with cameras and other detection sensors.” Watch SQuRO navigate the world here.